‘How did World War I affect Santa Barbara?’— Jon Landes
By: Michael Redmon
Although the First World War did have an impact on Santa
Barbara, it did not have as large an effect as World War II had on
the community. The war broke out in August 1914, but the U.S. did
not enter the conflict until spring 1917. Europe seemed very far
away from California and there was not as much apprehension about a
direct attack — a contrast to the fear in the months following
Pearl Harbor. Still, Santa Barbarans certainly did not ignore the
War to End All Wars.
The German invasion of Belgium at the beginning of the war and
subsequent atrocities against civilians caught local attention. In
November 1914, author Stewart Edward White, one of the most popular
novelists of the period, threw open his upper Eastside home for a
benefit food drive for Belgian civilians. This and other efforts
raised some $1,400 for the food fund and drew praise from the
Belgian National Society of Relief. Another campaign urged folks to
spend $1.50 to buy a 50-pound bag of flour, which would then be
In 1916, an incident occurred that in some ways mirrored the
events surrounding the attack on the Ellwood oil fields by a
Japanese submarine in February 1942. In early February, both the
police and the local newspapers received reports about a flotilla
of strange ships accompanied by airplanes off the Channel Islands.
This was a time when aviation was still a relatively new
phenomenon, so this caused much comment, and the fact that it was
wartime gave the entire episode a bit of a sinister cast. Local
authorities contacted the Navy, which stated it had no craft in the
Santa Barbara area. Both the Allies and the Central Powers also
denied having any forces in the channel.
The nightly sightings continued for two weeks, and the
community’s apprehension grew. When a wall of a dilapidated adobe
on State Street collapsed, rumors flew that German bombers were
responsible. Finally, the Navy confessed it indeed had been
conducting secret maneuvers in the channel. The excitement died
down, but the incident was an indication of growing public concern
about the war.
That concern of course deepened once the U.S. entered the
conflict. A local educator, Prynce Hopkins, had recently opened a
school based on Montessori teaching principles, naming it Boyland.
Hopkins was a confirmed pacifist, which got him in trouble with
authorities. Although no evidence of pro-German sympathies could be
found, Hopkins was find $25,000 and the days of Boyland were
numbered. Numerous conservation campaigns called for the populace
to observe “meatless” and “wheatless” days. Stewart Edward White
and Joel R. Fithian organized a Santa Barbara contingent to the
volunteer California Field Artillery, popularly known as the
“Grizzlies.” The unit served overseas but did not see combat.
Another group of concerned citizens organized the Santa Barbara
Constabulary to ensure public order. Volunteers pledged to put up
the funds to equip each of the volunteers with a new Springfield
rifle. Drill exercises took place in the gym of Santa Barbara High
School, which ruined the wood floor. When a recruit expressed
dismay about this, he was told by an officer, “This is war, and war
is waste!” The drilling continued. Eventually, the constabulary
numbered more than 500 men.
The end of the war in November 1918 resulted in great joy and
celebration as the bells of the Old Mission announced the wonderful
news. As a coda to the conflict, the deadly influenza epidemic hit
the city that same month, packing the city’s two hospitals to
overflowing and causing the shutdown of public gathering places,
such as theaters and pool halls. It was a melancholy finale to
Santa Barbara’s contribution to victory.
Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara
Historical Society, will answer your questions about Santa
Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa
St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.